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NCAA Conference Tournament Picks Against the Spread – March 14th

It’s Showtime!  A massive slate of college basketball games takes the national stage today as all six BCS conferences, as well as the Mountain West, A-10 and Conference USA all play four games today in their quarterfinal rounds.  So far, no bid-stealers have arisen, unless of course the committee throws some mercy on Middle Tennessee State and extends them a surprise at-large bid, a la George Mason in 2006.

However, just because Cinderella hasn’t crashed the gate yet doesn’t mean she can’t take on a slightly less miraculous and more recognizable form.  The “big guys” still have the potential to shake up the landscape this week.  The ACC, SEC and Pac-12 all have a bevy of bubble dwellers who can move up or down with one or two wins this week.

Let’s take a quick scan of five interesting games today for our free Conference Tournament pics.

Colorado Buffaloes vs. Arizona Wildcats -5  (Pac-12 Quarterfinals)

Colorado was famously screwed in their first matchup this season when the replay officials gave Arizona a second life at the end of regulation.  The Buffaloes repaid their debt in full with a beatdown when the Wildcats came to Boulder later in the season.

Arizona stumbled down the stretch, losing three of seven games, two of them by double digits (to Colorado and UCLA).  The Buffs match up well against Arizona and still seem to view them with a little payback mentality.  A win today will all but assuredly stamp Colorado’s dance ticket.  I like them to pull the upset today in the tourney.

Free Pick:  Colorado Buffaloes +5

St. Joseph’s Hawks -1 vs. Xavier Musketeers  (A-10 Quarterfinals)

St. Joes is one of the more disappointing teams in the country this season.  Expected to contend for an A-10 title and Top 25 ranking, they slid out of the polls early and never flirted with them again all season.  Today is their last gasp to salvage the season.  Xavier on the other hand, is trending in the opposite direction.  This was supposed to be a rebuilding season, with the loss of their four leading scorers and best players, including the transfer of Dez Well and Mark Lyons and graduation of Tu Holloway, however they have played their way back into distant fringe bubble consideration with wins over Butler and St. Louis.

Both teams have gone 3-3 in their last six games, but against dramatically different schedules.  St. Joe’s has lost their games by an average of 13.7 points.  Xavier by an average of 4.7 points and to UMass, Butler and VCU with wins over St. Louis and Memphis.

I like X today with a huge win that keeps their very distant NCAA dreams on life support for another day.

Free Pick:  Xavier Musketeers +1

Villanova Wildcats vs. Louisville Cardinals -9 (Big East Quarterfinals)

Louisville is on fire.  Don’t forget, this was once the #1 team in the country and strong contender for a national title.  They still are!  They will be a #1 seed if they win the Big East, and have a fringe chance at the #1 OVERALL seed should Indiana falter early.  They have won seven games in a row, and nine of ten overall – and only ONE was by less than nine points.  Their hit-list includes Cincinnati, Notre Dame and Syracuse.

Villanova is a nice story, and in my opinion, an absolute LOCK for the NCAA Tournament.  But they are facing a buzz saw today in the ‘Cards.

Free Pick:  Louisville Cardinals -9

Baylor Bears vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys -2.5 (Big 12 Quarterfinals)

Bubble teams everywhere are rooting for the Cowboys to tighten the lasso around Baylor’s NCAA hopes.  A big win tonight would likely do just that.  However, a Baylor win gives them a fairly compelling argument on Selection Sunday.

OK State has won 8 of 10, and truly it should be 9 of 10 had they not blown the double-overtime game against Kansas.  Baylor, for all their talent and quality wins, is just 18-13 and lost four of their last six games including a lack-luster effort against Texas.  Oklahoma State is a surprisingly slim favorite, considering their better momentum, better resume, and frankly better TEAM.

Free Pick:  Oklahoma State Cowboys -2.5

Oregon Ducks -3.5 vs. Washington Huskies (Pac-12 Quarterfinals)

Washington was lucky to escape lowly Washington State last night.  They won’t be so lucky tonight.  Oregon is a better team and knows they need to avoid an early loss to preserve the decent seeding they’ve worked all year to build.  I think they win comfortably tonight.

Free Pick:  Oregon Ducks -3.5